Bringing the Map to Life: IAEA assists Africa on Uranium Resources
12 December 2013 | Africa currently produces about 18% of the world’s uranium, but various estimates see a three to four fold increase by 2035-2040. The continent has been producing uranium for more than 50 years, notably in Niger, Namibia and South Africa, and more recently in Malawi. However, changes are needed in both the number and the nature of uranium mining projects to achieve those projections.
The strong participation at a recent IAEA workshop on “Uranium exploration and resources in Africa: Challenges and opportunities” hinted at the degree of interest from across the region. Participants from 20 IAEA Member States attended the 25-29 November workshop in Lilongwe, Malawi, to review progress and to plan ahead on a regional basis.
Malawi’s Minister for Mining, the Hon. John Bande MP set the tone for the workshop in his opening speech. ”The mining sector is vital to realising Malawi’s social and economic development goals as set out in the country’s Minerals and Mining Action Plan 2014-2020,” he said.
Malawi started commercial uranium mining four years ago at the Kayelekera Mine in Karonga, in the north of the country. Mining already contributes 10% of its GDP and Malawi is on target to raise this level to 20% by 2020.
The country is trying to strike the balance of attracting inward investment in the mining sector, while ensuring that projects meet sustainable development goals, delivering economic, social and environmental benefits to the country as a whole. This is key to long-term social acceptance of mining projects – the so-called “social licence to mine”.
Workshop participants also visited the Kanyika site, about 200 km north of Lilongwe, which has niobium, tantalum and uranium resources. Exploration has now finished and the mine site, and mining plan, is now being developed.
This process of bringing the geological resource map to life as a mining project will need to be replicated many times in the region to achieve the economic development goals it has set itself. “Managing such processes according to the highest standards of safety and environmental management has been fundamental to IAEA Technical Cooperation projects,” said Harikrishnan Tulsidas, from the IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy, who serves as the Technical Officer for the Regional Africa Project RAF/3/007, entitled Supporting Uranium Mining and Related Regulation Activities.“The success of this project has paved the way for a follow-up Technical Cooperation project, entitled Supporting Sustainable Development of Uranium Resource, which will run until 2019,” he added.
By Harikrishnan Tulsidas, NEFW, Department of Nuclear Energy, and Alain Cardoso, TCAF, Department of Technical Cooperation